There is now one Jeopardy! contestant who can accurately call himself the “Greatest of All Time.”
Ken Jennings, the computer programmer turned full-time Jeopardy! champion, won the show’s epic prime-time trivia tournament that featured the three most successful contestants in the history of the show, which debuted in 1964. Jennings won his third game Tuesday night, defeating James Holzhauer in a tight contest decided in the final minute.
Leading after two games by 10,419 points, Jennings correctly answered the Final Jeopardy! answer with “Who is Iago?” and had cautiously wagered no points. Holzhauer had wagered all he had and thus would have won had he not answered, “Who is Horatio?” (The Final Jeopardy! answer was, “He has 272 speeches, the most of any non-title character in a Shakespeare tragedy," referring to the character in Othello.)
“It has taken 15 years for Ken Jennings to finally answer the question, ‘Is he as good as he appeared to be in that great run on Jeopardy!?’” host Alex Trebek said after the game before anointing Jennings “the Greatest of All Time Jeopardy! champion.”
Lancaster native Brad Rutter again finished a distant third and was largely not a factor during the competition. Holzhauer largely limited his taunts of his competitors to social media, but on Tuesday night didn’t pass up a chance to mock Rutter on the show over his score.
“It’s gotten to be that kind of competition, hasn’t it,” Trebek dryly noted.
Here are some more highlights from Tuesday’s competition:
World according to Kareem: Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offered all the answers to this category, which included his signature basketball shot (“What is the skyhook?”), Oscar Robertson’s jersey number (“What is 1?”), and the martial arts training he received from Bruce Lee (“What is Jeet Kune Do?”).
Jeoportmanteau!: The best category of the night came during the first round and featured some of the clever and linguistically challenging word blends known as portmanteaus. The funniest was one Rutter answered correctly: “Sentient creature like Olaf or Frosty plus ‘the No. 1 Kosher wine brand in America.’“ The response: “What is Snowmanischewitz?”
“You delight in the moment”: Jennings appeared to struggle with a Daily Double, but answered correctly, causing Trebek to comment on his technique: “I hope you will not take offense, Ken. But so often when you respond, you respond in a questioning manner as if you’re not sure. And you delight in the moment. It’s wonderful to see.”
Light on celebrities: Other than Abdul-Jabbar, the only other celebrity to appear Tuesday was the actor Ryan Reynolds. The Deadpool star read all the answers in the Greatest Comedians category.
In addition to taking home the title of Greatest of All Time, Jennings will pocket $1 million, increasing his career earnings on the show to $4.4 million. Holzhauer and Rutter will each earn $250,000. Rutter remains Jeopardy!’s all-time highest-earning winner, with a total of $4.95 million dating back to his initial appearance in 2000.
The tournament garnered monster ratings for ABC, averaging more than 16 million viewers a night across its first three nights last week, according to Nielsen ratings. That’s more viewers than all of ESPN’s 2019 Monday Night Football telecasts, and ranks second among entertainment programs so far this season, behind NBC’s Golden Globes broadcast (18.32 million).
During the tournament’s first game, Jennings barely edged out Holzhauer, beating him by just 200 points. Holzhauer managed to win the second night, but Jennings’ victory during the tournament’s third night was such a blowout that neither Holzhauer nor Rutter even bothered to offer an answer during Final Jeopardy.
Harry Friedman, longtime producer of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, told Slate the goal of the tournament was to make the questions difficult for the contestants, but not so obscure that they alienated the audience. He also offered an update on Trebek’s health as the longtime host, who is 79, continues to cope with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
“His course of treatment keeps changing. He is now on a trial drug that just got approved,” Friedman said. “There have been days when he comes in to work and he doesn’t feel well. But by the time we get to taping a few hours later, there’s somehow a resurgence in strength and energy. It’s a marvel to behold. He is able to put everything else aside when the moment comes, host the show, and do it well. He has not called in sick once.”